Does it take work to make a great marriage?
My answer may surprise you: I don't know.
How can this be? I have what I consider to be a great marriage. Just about 22 years now, and I love my wife today probably deeper than ever I did in my misspent youth. Do we work at our marriage?
I don't know.
There are a couple of old tenets that are at odds, and that I think of every now and then:
1) It takes two people to make a marriage work
2) It takes two people to wreck a marriage.
Bzzzt! It only takes on ass to ruin what might otherwise be a perfectly good marriage.
Do my wife and I see eye-to-eye on everything? Absolutely not. In many aspects of our lives we have different viewpoints and different thoughts on how we approach issues. So how is it that we have an excellent, strong marriage? There are a few key points, and I'll share them with you (I'm feeling very giving right now...don't know why).
Know thyself, and use thee well
One thing that we do is that we tend to use our best tools for any given job.
That is, if there is someone who needs a bit of TLC, comfort, and caring for, DO NOT SEND ME TO DO IT. She is a nurse...a nurturer at heart. I am a somewhat pragmatic and very sarcastic (sometimes snide) engineer, and don't fully understand people. "...and does whining like a loose fan belt help you or this situation?" I'm not really very empathetic.
Need someone to deal with tweaking the investment portfolio. That's my job. I'm much more of a numbers person than she is. Need a something fixed? Usually my job (not that the Mrs. isn't capable, but it's how our individual strengths are put to use). Wiring up the entertainment systems? Me. Keeping in touch with friends and family? Her. Homework? Math, Science, & English: me; projects and displays: her. History: you're on your own, kid (although we'll both help, naturally).
Who cooks? We both do, but she more than I, I think. Grocery shopping? We both do, but me more than she, I think. I do more laundry and almost all the dishes (if I can't rope a kid into that), she cleans bathrooms and deals with chauffeur duty more than I do. I'm not allowed to paint ('cause I truly stink at it).
We're constantly working at life, and raising kids. Are we working at our marriage? I don't know.
We constantly say "I love you." (She more than I). We try to go out together, perhaps with another couple, every two or three weeks. I somewhat infrequently buy flowers for her (I've learned that she likes this...I don't understand, I just do). We talk about what the kids are up to, and if they're up to no good, we figure out what should our response be and deliver it together. We both tend to go to concerts, plays, sports games, etc...(she more than I, truth be told).
Assess your strengths, use them wisely, and grow weaknesses into strengths as much as possible.
How you say what you say...:
We certainly have our trouble communicating, she being quite right-brained and me being so far to the left, but in the back of my mind (and, I suspect, in the back of hers) is the certainty that we are both on the same team and are trying to swim in the same general direction...we have to remind ourselves to give the benefit of the doubt sometimes.
This alone was not an easy lesson to learn; I recall one time when our oldest was growing to be roughly adult-sized my wife had put on the lad's winter jacket and it almost fit. She had that playful pout on her face that made me think that she must be feeling pangs about having an almost adult-sized kid (my baby's growing up sort of crap). In my infinite wisdom, I pointed out that the jacket remained too small for her. My thought was to mollify her sadness, indicating that the kid is not yet adult. She took it as me calling her fat.
We had a fight about that one! But this is one of those things that pointed out to me - that reminded me - that communication is the most important part of any relationship, and clear, accurate communication is one of the hardest things in the world to master.
This drives home a point that I have made to the kids numerous times, and to many of the people who have worked for me through the years: How you say what you say is generally more important than what you say.
The Benefit of the doubt:
We have communication troubles all the damn time. But let's acknowledge that communication is a multi-part process. You have a transmitter and a receiver and they don't always share a common understanding of the words that are used. If I'm asked for a trash bag, I'm reaching for the tall white bag that we put into the trash barrel in the kitchen. Sometimes she meant a smaller shopping bag that she could throw a small something into in order to promptly put it outside in the barrel. Sometimes she meant the huge green contractor-sized trash bags.
This is, of course, a simple example, but it'll suffice to show that the words used were correct, but the message received was not necessarily the one that was transmitted. There are countless incidents of this sort, some of them not so simple or kind.
BUT, if, when I hear something from her that rankles me, I think about it and ask myself if she means what I heard, we can avoid a lot of conflict because the answer is almost always 'no, she couldn't have meant what I heard. She's better than that'.
Give the benefit of the doubt. When I bend down to pick something up, and she suddenly knees me in the head, assume that it wasn't done on purpose. She's a better person than that. When I hear her say something mean or derisive to me, I have to think that she said something other than what I heard. Look for clarification.
Let me esplain...no, there is too much; Let me Sum Up:
To me, it all boils down to a few simple rules:
- Be on the same side...even if you disagree, at the end of the day, when you confront your common "enemy", you still have to be a unified pair;
- Give the benefit of the doubt...the message that came in my ears probably didn't come out of her mouth;
- Let it go...we all make mistakes, and sometimes we don't communicate when we should have...sorry, can we get on with our lives?
- Say "sorry" when it's warranted (and mean it...they can always tell if you don't mean it);
- Buy flowers every now and then;
- Share the load;
- She should be his priority, he should be hers (forgive the genderization there...these things work equally well in same-gender relationships);
- Play together often;
- Be apart sometimes (guys' night out, girls' night out...);
Are these things "work"? I don't really think so. I think that these are just the rules of engagement for living in a community, which married couples do. For me, marriage is pretty easy.
I leave you with a quote:
"By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you'll be happy. If you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher."